The age-friendly community
I’d like to believe I was a gift to my late parents. I was born on the last day of Christmas, also known as Old Christmas Day.
I recently celebrated my fifty-fourth birthday. Or was it my fifty-fifth? I ’m in a quandary, because I really don’t know. Please allow me to explain.
One afternoon, during the wrath of Hurricane Igor, I sat by my sump pump, ensuring it was working properly as it emptied the water that was trickling into my basement. To pass the time, I worked my way through boxes and boxes of stuff my family and me had collected over the years, keeping some, tossing out the rest.
One item in particular caught my immediate and undivided attention: the name tag that was wrapped around my wrist right after I was born. I was dumbstruck by what I read: Baby Boy Janes was born on Jan. 6, 1956. That would make me 55 today. However, as I said earlier, I’m only 54.
I shouted to my wife, “Sherry, I might be older than I thought I was.”
When she wondered about what in the world I meant, I elaborated, “I might be 53, or I might be 54. I don’t know any longer.” Talk about an identity crisis! Meanwhile, I have an explanation for what I think happened. Because I was born so close to the old year, the nurse simply forgot to jot down 1957, writing 1956 instead.
All this thinking about my birthday has caused me to wonder about other age-related matters. In 2006, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, through its Department of Health and Community Services, stated that seniors, adults 65 years-of-age or more, comprised approximately 13.4 per cent of the population. Over a third of the population was over 50 years-of-age.
Our population is aging fast. Indeed, since 1970, it has aged faster than any other province. If Statistics Canada can be trusted, this province will have the largest percentage of seniors by 2026, the year I will turn 69 ... or 70.
In government lingo, the data is intended to “ help us identify issues and trends to inform the development of policies and programs, as we strive to proactively address the realities of our aging population.”
Here’s one of the many questions I’ve asked myself recently: Is my community age-friendly? How about my province? My country? Inquiring minds want to know.
It’s personally encouraging to see the government sponsoring an Age-Friendly New- foundland and Labrador Grants program. It’s “designed to provide funding to incorporated municipalities, Inuit community governments and reserves, and seniors’ organizations … to support them in planning for an aging population.” What’s an age-friendly community? The government provides a definition: “An age-friendly community is one where the physical and social environments are designed to enable older individuals to live in a secure setting, enjoy health and continue to participate fully in society.”
The World Health Organization suggests that, in age-friendly communities, outdoor spaces and public buildings are pleasant, clean, secure and physically accessible. Public transportation is accessible and affordable. Housing is affordable, appropriately located, well-built, well-designed and secure.
There are opportunities for participation in leisure, social, cultural and spiritual activities with people of all ages and cultures. Older people are treated with respect and are included in civic life. There are opportunities for employment and volunteerism that cater to older people’s interests and abilities. Age-friendly communication and information are available. Finally, community support and health are tailored to seniors’ needs.
A demanding agenda perhaps. However, governments on the national, provincial and municipal level should be challenged to pay greater attention to an aging population.
Once governments are onboard, they must, first of all, ascertain what it is they are looking for. Then they must ask certain questions. For example, what specific challenges are associated with age-friendliness? What has already been accomplished in this regard? Which goals will be tackled first? How will these goals be achieved?
A starting point could be something as simple as lobbying the local municipality to pass a motion to the effect of actively participating in, supporting, promoting and working “to implement an age-friendly initiative to assess and improve accessibility and inclusion for older persons and for the whole community.”
Admittedly, I have a selfish motive in mind by making this suggestion. I want to know that, when I reach 65, older persons will no longer be under-represented in our workforce and in our community life, and older persons will be able to fully participate in and contribute to the social and economic well-being of our community. Indeed, such an age-friendly initiative is eminently compatible with and supports other community efforts.